What I do do

More heat in hot places, more cold in cold places. More taxes and fewer services. A litigious society where one accident can derail a hardworking family. Increasing health care costs with decreasing compensation for the people who provide it. The modification of food so it begins to kill us instead of making us stronger. Sheltering of corporate rights and protection for the people who make choices, sometimes illegal, that focus only on the bottom line. Whole areas of cities that are given up on by the state that is supposed to repair and police them, instead ruled by gun and drug trade. Crazy stories of people being raised in captivity, sold for parts. The bad news is everywhere.

Blocking it out only works so well. One day you may drive on that dangerous street, or have a kid born prematurely. It is hard to trust that the mechanisms we have in place can fix these problems large and small, individual and systemic. These checks and balances were here all along. Where has it gotten us?

If you think the world is unfair, and many or most people are getting screwed, even if it is not you what could you do?

What should you do?

There are some people who really go all in, move to the third world and embed themselves providing healthcare, religious education, school buildings, and pumps for fresh water. They are no longer of the problem, and are probably part of the solution, at least in the way they can be. Hands on.

Others start non profit organizations to try to lobby the government, and pick up the slack where possible. They are bogged down by licensing and paperwork and reporting and their programs do as much as they can, and how much is that? There is always a need for more.

Others bail altogether. Buy an island, build a boat, and feed their kids on locally grown food. They are living lightly on the earth, and still is this an act of protest or of self protection? How do we measure the value of this.

Despite its economic diversity for the most part I live in a bubble where people are getting screwed less. And some of us are doing the screwing. We debate which mountain to buy our season’s passes at and which piano teacher will be more motivating to our second grader. We worry about the cost of college and the debt our kids will have, but not whether college is an option at all. Most of us have cars that run well, and pay someone to work in our yards at least twice a year. Things are easier in Shelburbia than many places. And still…still… what can we really do?

If we aren’t going into public service, starting an NPO, or moving to an island what is possible, what is reasonable, and can it matter?

Can the choices I make fill every kids belly with food, or regrow the ice caps, can it give bus drivers fair schedules and make cities walkable, can it re structure the food system. No, no, no, maybe a little?

It feels like peeing into the ocean. If change on a personal level feels so ineffectual why do we do it? Even the largest sacrafice we can make, if we offer every hour of every day in service to correcting some of these wrongs will it make a difference? Some?

Are we going through motions to decrease our own guilt, model empathy for our kids or something more?

I want to be able to lead a comfortable life, one with sports utility vehicles, private summer camps, local art and Saturday morning farmers markets. I want to hire tutors for my children if they need them, and teach them lifetime “skills” like tennis. I want to spend $10/ gallon on raw local milk and know the names of the beef that I eat. I want the life of the 1%. Go ahead and make fun of me shopping at whole foods, I’ll be that patsy. And I want everyone else to be able to be a patsy too, if they choose.

Impossible.

Would I trade? Would I just randomly trade with another family of four somewhere in America? I don’t think so. I would do it for acclaim, or the story or the “experience”, but would I simply switch lives with them, if their lives were missing many of the privileges of mine? No. Would you?

Here are the things I do do. Pissing into the ocean as they may be.

For each privilege or luxury I will pay for someone else to do that same thing. I send my boys to sailing camp, I pay for two other boys to go to sailing camp. A 1 for 1 deal, but is sailing camp the very best way to have spent that money? I don’t know. A lot of times I forget and just get a babysitter for a night out. This is a luxury too.

I give gifts to non profits, non profits who focus on essential needs, education, art, literacy, science, health, farming, education. I don’t know the ROI, nor do I expect to. Hopefully some of it helps.

I invest in start up businesses directly, I am a partner in a local Venture Capital Fund that has as part of its mission to focus on local businesses, and I have helped fund and found a tech accelerator here in Burlington so some of the young talent might stay and work here, and perhaps become successful enough to employ other people who will be able to stay and work here and support their families.

I work with non profits to expand their fundraising efforts. Last year before I slept out with Specturm I met with the staff and pitched the idea of having kids and other organizations sleep out as well, at sites other than the main sites. They took that ball and ran with it. I gave nothing other than the concept, they created materials to support people who slept out and this year they doubled their participation. There are other stories like that, where I try not to remain the only one writing the check. I am not even close to wealthy enough to make a difference.

I buy local art. The creative economy is vital to growing a sense of place and growing a place. It is an old story. Artists discover an area and then it is gentrified. They are pushed to the edges and they do what they do and create anew. I am not the only one supporting the local art scene. Generally original art is not the first thing people think of spending their disposable income on. If there even is such a thing as disposable income anymore. I encourage you to try though. For a pretty small investment you might fall in love with the permanent window in your home that allows you to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Is this as much as I can do? Surely, obviously, definitely not. Does any of this even make a fundamental community changing mindblowing difference? Nope. Do I feel self righteous and justified in my lucky life? Sometimes, a little bit. But mostly no.

I have no answers here. Just always more questions. What can we do? What should we do? How much redistribution is necessary and effective? Is there any amount we can keep for ourselves that isn’t too much? I don’t know.

Here is what we decided for our family. I have to say I am a bit shaky as I type this, because I used to feel unwavering at least in my personal disclosure and lately I have been a bit bumped and bruised by it, but here goes.

In the past 3 years we have earned 4 million dollars. We put 950k into properties that we own. We put 1 million in the bank. I gave away and invested the rest in local ventures. To me it feels like a lot. I don’t get to give myself everything I want. I don’t say that looking for sympathy or praise. Just explaining how it feels. There are certain higher end things (like the Tesla) that we could not afford to buy. As we are moving to a more expensive city we had to go down several rungs in quality of house. I would have been happier buying a nicer house. I feel that one a lot more than the car. We will be living for a time with furnaces that don’t work, windows that leak, and a kitchen that only fits one cook. It will be less comfortable than we are used to. I still get most things that I want. I can go to the grocery store buy organic products and wince at the bill, but still pay it. When I reverse into the mailbox for the third time I can afford to fix my taillight even though it is unreasonably expensive.

Of that 2 million plus that has left my account the vast majority of it doesn’t even have a chance of coming back. Sometimes I wish I were more discerning and shrewd, so I could put that money to work harder or better. Have those gifts and investments be more than one time gifts. The idea of supporting things in perpetuity rather than in start up is appealing to me, and I haven’t been able to make that happen.

I don’t know where to volunteer, what to donate, or what to protest in a way that will really fix things. I don’t know if things can be fixed. Except, eventually, our furnace.

I approve all comments, but would hope that you understand that no one chooses their circumstances in life, just how to respond to them, and this post is one in a series as I continue to navigate how to live with a higher than average but not ridiculous amount of wealth. I know I am lucky and do not offer any answers. Just questions.

Published by

Anna Palmer

Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble, Parent.co, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at annarosenblumpalmer.com.

20 thoughts on “What I do do”

  1. #1 The first part of this post sums it up, and I bet most of us would say the same if we were being honest. #2 I can’t think of anyone else with your local profile who’s so honest about their actual finical situation. #3. I also can’t think of any other individual who’s been so materially and creatively supportive of our local ventures and non-profits.

    1. For some reason giving real numbers seems important to me. When I launched the marble jar app I shared all of my real marketing numbers. Obviously I have shared details here that make people uncomfortable. unveiling taboo subjects by showing my dirty laundry seems to be the backbone of this blog. I still need to figure out why that matters to me.

  2. Our community will lose a benefactor and visionary when you move. The local economy has benefited greatly from your keen interest in start-ups and your gracious ability to not look for the ROI. We will ALL miss you and hope you’ll be back to visit and watch the seeds you planted grow. You are unique in how you give and assess and everyone who knows you is the LUCKY. Win win. Anna. Win win.

    1. Thanks Leigh. I have really really enjoyed working with you on a variety of social ventures. You will always be the one who taught me “fashion forward” not how to be it obviously, but how to say it.

  3. Very well said. You articulated why there is more than just the 1% and the 99%. There are others that want to do good, don’t want to be part of the problem. And perhaps most importantly, there is no simple way to achieve that goal.

    1. My mother would (and did) say that politics is the answer, cumbersome as it may be. I guess assuming we don’t reframe our entire system she is correct. I wonder if anyone in our entire generation has faith that politics can legislate productive and wholesale change. Other than civil liberties issues I can’t think of
      A real example in my adult life. Maybe healthcare reform. But it is such a mess and the system it is working with is so broken it is hard to picture any sort of effective universal health care. Maybe I am missing examples.

  4. The fact that you have given away 50% (or invested it in ways that are unlikely to give you ROI) says everything that anyone should care about. You are walking the walk, and beyond just $$. Your ideas, volunteering, championing the arts…wow. Denver is really lucky to be getting your family.

  5. 4 million dollars in three years. Not too shabby. Most americans will never see that kind of cash in their entire lifetime. We have been reading this blog for months now, and laughing harder at each post. Anna seems completely disconnected from reality. We used to watch her at the waiting room, actually working pretty hard. It really appeared that she wanted to succeed and stand on her own. Guess that was just a hobby business. Then an app business. Then other failures. What a gift to be able to pour money into a building and and into businesses, walk away, and then still live in million dollar houses (two of them at the same time) in shelburne. The saddest part of this whole thing is that anna is leaving town now, and being lauded as a philanthropic hero by her followers online. What’s the point of taking startup money from a person with continued failure in the startup business herself? Not exactly a savvy investor or something to be proud of, or to celebrate. Enjoy your not as nice house in Denver Anna, we really feel sorry you have to slum it out there. It’s tragic.

    1. At no point have I ever whispered the implication that living with a house with leaky windows and a broken driveway is tragic. I worked my ass off at the waiting room for the first few years and gave lots of people jobs. Was it the be all end all for everyone. Obviously not, but in general it gave a hell of a lot more to the community than it took. Hobby or business, why does that label matter? But if it does it was a business in every sense including the legal one. The implication that people should only accept seed money from someone who has a successful business is absurd. If people vetted the skill level of their supporters there wouldn’t be many innovative ventures. As for being out of touch with reality…we each have our own reality.

      1. Your reality deals in the millions, while the rest of deal in the hundreds. What started as a social commentary for you has turned into an embarrassment, and now you don’t know what to do. You tried over and over to be real, but it just came out as obnoxious, pretentious, out of touch and loopy. Ah, the beauty of the world wide web. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been amazing to read. Will you keep blogging from Denburbia? Looking forward to the next post!

        1. Anna, you are a strong “doer of deeds” who strives valiantly… After seeing the sarcasm & hate coming from “Cousin Mary” I felt compelled to find that quote from Teddy Roosevelt which comments on critics:

          It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

          1. And the troll comment is for “Cousin Mary”, because that’s what he/she is. Someone trolling the internet for something to desperately hang their hate upon. Sad existence, yo.

  6. Wow, the post above is so mean that I have to respond.

    You’ve characterized some of your ventures as failures, but you have been one of the first people I turn to when I want fresh, creative ideas. You’ve always thought outside the box, and frankly, if the ventures lost steam, I don’t think it’s necessarily that the idea was bad. Case in point: the Spectrum Sleep Out involving students. We weren’t sure if it would work. Then Celia did it on her own and showed us that your idea had legs, and so we ran with it, made it a full-fledged event and achieved an ambitious goal.

    And this is just one of the ways you’ve made a mark here. Yes, you’ve done it through philanthropy, also through the creativity you’ve brought, the fresh ideas you’ve supported, the way you’ve connected people. And your honest, funny, human writing. Sometimes you drive me crazy because you won’t say hi first, or you walk away mid-conversation, but the truth is we don’t cross paths all that often and still I’ve felt your presence here. Denver is lucky to have you.

    As far as what it all amounts to, whether we can really fix things: sometimes I think it matters more how we live our lives than the impact we will really have. That we do it according to our own values and try to fix the things we feel the most passionate about. I would rather do that than ignore it all. (Have you even read Soul of Money by Lynne Twist? You might appreciate it…)

    1. Thank you. I will try to be more conscientious about my social skills. Not saying I will succeed but I will try. As for helping the community you are one who gives most of your time to a great organization that supports essential needs. I have also seen you moonlight and volunteer. So keep it up, you are a bright light in btv

      1. That is a really kind thing to say, Anna, thanks so much. And I reread my comment above and it came across more harshly than I intended. I was reacting to your “cousin” above and wanting to make it clear that I think your impact has not all been related to money, and that we’re not all pandering to you by saying these nice things – but it was clunkily said. I’ve always appreciated your honesty about just being who you are, human as we all are, and I hope you’ll keep writing when you move.

  7. 50% of your income during this time period has been invested or donated. Holy shit! That is crazy. And awesome. And extremely generous. Wow!

    Do I think paying for someone else to do that same thing for each luxury privilege will change the whole community? No, but it will change the experience for the two kids that can’t afford sailing camp and if everyone in Shelburbia who could afford to do this, did it, it would actually change the whole community. I applaud your efforts, Anna and if all the commenters who complained about you invested and donated with the percentage of income that you do this would be a much richer community.

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